Government and NGO representatives traveled to UN headquarters in New York last week to defend, for the first time, Cambodia’s compliance with an international convention against gender discrimination, officials said on Tuesday.
Officials from several ministries attempted to explain to a UN committee the government’s adherence to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, which Cambodia signed in 1992, Minister of Women’s Affairs Ing Kantha Phavi told reporters.
“Questions were raised as to what Cambodia has done to promote women’s situation, health and legal and economic status,” Ing Kantha Phavi said. “Since 2001, when we started to have peace and stability, the royal government started to focus on women’s issues specifically.”
UN officials especially questioned why the chbab srei—the Khmer women’s code of conduct that advises them to be subservient and quietly accept abuse—is still part of the government-approved public school curriculum, the minister said. Ros Sopheap, executive director of the NGO Gender and Development for Cambodia, explained that the curriculum does not endorse the code of conduct, but asks students to analyze and interpret it.
“Each country has a unique cultural and traditional context so when we implement gender equality we need to account for our tradition and culture,” Ing Kantha Phavi said. She added that Justice Ministry officials pledged before the UN committee that the draft penal code would provide specific punishments for those who discriminate against women.
Ministry of Justice Secretary of State Hy Sophea, who is in charge of the draft penal code, denied Tues-day that it addressed discrimination.
(Additional reporting by Prak Chan Thul)